By Christopher Connell ’71
Nine hundred alumni, parents, and others packed a hotel ballroom a few blocks from the White House on Nov. 20 to meet new President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 and, judging from the loud applause and locomotive at the end, they liked what they heard. Eisgruber, fielding questions from political journalist Todd Purdum ’82 and the audience, held forth on topics from the meningitis outbreak to the unpopular, decade-old effort to get stingier with A grades (it’s being rethought); to college rankings (“pernicious” and “ridiculous” notwithstanding Princeton’s No. 1 ranking from U.S. News & World Report); to further expanding the student body (the question is “when rather than whether”); to requiring computer science (he’s for it); greater diversity (also for it); and curbing sexual assaults on campus (inculcate a culture of honor on campus).
On the meningitis outbreak – eight cases over the past year – Eisgruber said students have heeded warnings to head straight to McCosh Infirmary if they contract a fever, but the University was “very glad” to get the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s permission to import a vaccine to protect students against this strain. “It is a hard disease to contract. It’s not like the flu,” said Eisgruber, but “if you get it, it rapidly produces life-threatening symptoms.”
Eisgruber called an acceptance to Princeton campus “a gift for every student who receives it” that not only transforms their lives but makes a difference in the world, and he believes there’s room for “a few more” without losing the “intimacy” of a Princeton education. Pointing to the examples of Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor ’76 and Elena Kagan ’81 and Rep. Terri Sewell ’86, Eisgruber said, “We have become stronger in every aspect of what we do by virtue of our increased diversity.”
Purdum, who writes for Politico and Vanity Fair, noted that Princeton in the same eras produced such diverse public figures as the brothers John Foster and Allen Dulles (Classes of 1908 and 1914) and Norman Thomas (1905); Donald Rumsfeld ’54 and Ralph Nader ’55; Justices Samuel Alito ’72 and Sotomayor ’76, and Sen. Ted Cruz ’92 and muckraker Josh Marshall ’91. Is there “any small thing Princeton can do in its own way” now to bridge the country’s partisan divide?
Not one thing but “many things,” said Eisgruber, including bringing students into a community to not only discuss problems of the day, but also think about fundamental ideas from relativity to Dostoevsky to African art that “take us away from the issues that divide us” and “make the human spirit soar.”
The gathering was the latest on a year-long tour that has taken Eisgruber to New York, Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, and Hong Kong, with stops in Seattle (Jan. 27), San Francisco (Jan. 29), Los Angeles (Jan. 30), Miami (March 6), London (April 7), Paris (April 8), and Chicago (May 6).